Narrative In Art

A Cluster of Interesting Thinking

Osamu Tezuka

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Osamu Tezuka was born on November 3, 1928, in Osaka, Japan. He was a Japanese manga artist, animator, and had a degree as a medical doctor, although he did not practice medicine. After WWII, at the age of seventeen, he created his first manga, Diary of Ma-Chan and later New Treasure Island at the age of nineteen, which began the first manga craze. Tezuka was the pioneer of modern Japanese animation and manga. In his lifetime he created over 700 manga with more than 150,000 pages, which earned him the nickname, “God of Manga.”

character sheet for the star Kenichi

Within Tezuka’s comics, he used a new manner of storytelling known as the Star System. In this system he would use a stock of characters he created, and apply them to various roles in his manga and anime. Throughout his career he used this method to immerse the audience within a believable world, while paradoxically reminding them to be aware of the framework of fiction within the story. He allowed the reader to make connections with the character because they understood the roles that the Star had previously played.

Through the Star System, the reader is encouraged to create a unity between who the performer embodies and who they actually are. The Star has their own signature habits, facial expressions, and speech patterns, just like real actors. This complexity allows for a more personal effect by using a star we already recognize. It enriches the present story and allows the viewer to identify with the character through the actor, who we recognize already. Such an example would be how Michael Cera always plays the “shy quiet guy” or Morgan Freeman plays “the good guy.” An interesting example of this would be Tezuka’s star Rock Home.

Rock disguised, raping a woman.

Rock made his debut in Little Detective Rock Home in 1949, and was an innocent child yet was sometimes mischievous. In Next World, he is an aspiring journalist, but then is imprisoned and becomes bitter from emotional trauma. Rock in a later role becomes the lead villain in The Vampire, here he becomes not only smart and dangerous, but also for the first time, he is charismatic. He gains many fans in this point of time, and Tezuka received fan mail encouraging Rock in his negative roles. Later he portrays a sinister character in the comic Alabaster. He is an FBI agent, who is a narcissistic, racist, double-agent. He murders, manipulates others, even rapes the series’ heroine, and tortures her after. He is not empathetic nor redeeming in this character, but Rock’s earlier performances create depth to him and allow his reader to connect with him as a likeable character.
This is similar to what novelist Vladamir Nabokov informs us in Good Readers and Good Writers; the writer plays the role of the deceiver by choosing how the reader develops opinions about the characters in the novel. The writer is the one who controls the reader’s attitude towards this newly created world by controlling the way the reader experiences the senses (i.e. such as pleasant or unpleasant). In this situation, Tezuka controls how we view the characters in his story through the lens of the actors. By controlling our opinions of the characters, he simultaneously controls the way we approach the story, and who we align ourselves with, whether it be the protagonist or the antagonist. In Nabokov’s Good Readers and Writers, he states that we do not only go to a storyteller for entertainment, or for emotional participation in a fantasy realm, but also in the hope that they will teach us something that applies within our real world.
The viewer has accepted that Tezuka has created a false reality, with false characters, in a cinematic fashion, and has agreed to partake in his illusion. Tezuka’s storytelling technique of creating a completely staged world portrays his belief that the entire story and the characters are really just an allegory of a bigger ideal and abstract concept he wants to evoke to us. James Elkins tells us in Six Stories from the End of Representation:
“A physics textbook with a billiard-ball picture makes me think of real billiard balls and how they make a sharp sound when they click against one another; but that thought only impresses on me even more strongly that the particles these balls represent are like nothing I will ever hear or see… and that their collisions create events fantastically more complicated than the collision of two billiard balls as it’s described in introductory mechanics courses. Thinking of the balls’ glossy enamel paint and the soft green of the billiard table only makes me feel even stranger about what lies beyond this picture.”  (Elkins 25)
It is through this mindset that Tezuka utilises the Star System. Tezuka like Elkins believes that our imperfect representations symbolize something far beyond what we can understand, and yet when we come in contact with these intangible ideas, we are capable of comprehending ideas which exceed our world. We slightly understand that which is the ocular sublime, the epic tragedy, the spectacular, and the heroic. We realize this through extreme states of characterization, when we are given the ultimate essence of a character. Astro boy was a robot created by Dr. Tenma in order to replace his late son, Tobio. Although Dr. Tenma created this perfect robot boy, this perfection is why his creator does not love him. The hero within the story, even though he is perfectly created, is a flawed creature. Although he wants to be human, he is an illusion of something and of someone else. Astro boy became so incredibly popular in Japanese culture, due to his appealing doll-like appearance, which, posed opposite against his utter powerfulness. By contrasting the fantastical and the real, the extremely flawed and perfect all in one chaotic collision, and by placing flaws which exist within our real world inside this virtual simulation, he makes it much more obvious to the reader that we are partaking in a universe which exists beyond our scope of reality. Tezuka has said that even while creating the environments to the scenes, he remembers to insert mundane people, buildings, or animals, in order to remind us subconsciously that we cannot immerse ourselves ever truly within his story. In Schopenhauer’s Aesthetics, he explicates,

“A work of plastic art does not show us, as actuality does, that which exists once and never again, namely the union of this particular material with this particular form which constitutes the concrete and individual; it shows us the form alone which, if it were presented completely and in all its aspects, would be the Idea itself.”(Schopenhauer 159)

Schopenhauer emphasizes that the creator creates a falsehood of the pure form, and the creation is an illusion. Regardless, the viewer is invited to take part of this fictional setup, and to intimately acquaint themselves with the individual art piece in hand. By acknowledging this single piece of art as the summation of all its kind, we absorb the true Idea it is intended to represent. We thus accept the perpetual Idea while also realizing the ephemeral nature of the present piece that connects us to it. Tezuka is completely aware of the pretense within his own work, and makes it apparent to the audience. In moments of great tension Tezuka causes random events to occur, such as a pig-faced mushroom-like creature, one of Tezuka’s stars named Hyōtantsugi.

Tezuka's character Hyōtantsugi

This character sometimes appears in the panels, bouncing around with no explanation, or the character’s face becomes replaced with that of Hyōtantsugi’s in a gag. At times the characters react to the joke, and other times they do not. The story quickly progresses to the next panel as if nothing had happened. Making these jokes allows the viewer to remember that they are spectating. By inserting a seemingly random event in the middle of a tense situation, he reminds the audience that what they are reading is not reality. He takes the audience out of the emotional state encouraged by the dramatic scene, and places them within a more rational mindset; this is not uncommon in live theatre. Although it is a paradox that the audience becomes aware of the framework of fiction at these emotional moments, in distancing the audience, Tezuka allows them to indulge in a deeper and safer mode of identification. When Tezuka presents a false story he forces us to collect the pieces, and recognize the true ideal within the story that he is trying to present. This ties back to Elkin’s Bracket method; inner brackets mean the audience is to perceive a painting at a close distance, and outer brackets suggest the viewer is to see all the painting as a whole.
Elkins states that if the viewer is too far from an art piece they lose all perception of the story in close scrutiny, too close and we cannot perceive it if we analyze it as a whole. In this method we must view either from a distance or from a close shot of the story. By missing either the outer bracket (which allows us to only see something close up) or an inner bracket(allowing us to see only something close up and not from a distance), the audience is left concluding for themselves the imagined full version. By separating us by these jokes, we are left attempting to comprehend the sublime, we are left coaxing ourselves to immerse our minds entirely into this space completely alien to us, and experience this reality, the emotions, the raw feelings, which are not our own.
Another effect created by using the star Hyōtantsugi, is that it creates a link between Tezuka’s audience and himself. As the writer, throughout the comics, he integrates the silly creature within his story, creating a “Dyadic Joke” which is an ongoing joke between people in intimate relationships, such as a boyfriend and girlfriend, or a person and their sibling. These jokes are the kinds that Tezuka hopes to share with his audience through the use of the star system.Tezuka hopes to make a connection with his reader through the character Hyōtantsugi, and he is creating an inside jokes between himself and his fan base.The star Hyōtantsugi is a familiar joke, a commonality in the world of Tezuka, which you could only ever partake in as an avid reader, and he continues the joke as the avid writer.

Tezuka's Star Kenichi in multiple roles

Astro Boy dying in Black Jack

For readers who do not know of the star system, they may become baffled when they see stars from one comic in another. For instance, in the comic Black Jack, in one scene, Astro Boy stabs himself, then falls to the ground and bleeds. To a reader who has known Astro boy previously, this isn’t logical since he is a robot boy made of metal. But Astro Boy does not have the shine effect on his metallic skin which helps suggest he is playing a human role within this story. However, the effect can be quite meaningful if one is acquainted with Astro boy from his own comic. This robot who has always strived for imperfection, who has always been on the verge of humanity in every aspect but his physical form, finally achieves it in Black Jack when he stabs himself and lays vulnerable upon the ground. By doing this action, we become aware that Astro Boy is really just an actor within this sequence, yet we accept this dramatic event as if it were true. Within these instances where the actor represents both themselves and the character, the reader remains detached from the scenario, this keeps us logically still partaking in the events without our emotional aspects of ourselves muddling our opinions of the story. This detachment from the character is a result from the audience needing to cope with a being which is neither real nor imaginary, a double image of both the actor and the character. Which perplexes his audience most in the creation of his character TEZUKA.

OSAM TEZUKA the character

At first it appears to be simply the use of the author within their own comic, however in many of his feature roles, he partakes in events which have nothing to do with actuality. Within his roles, the character TEZUKA appears as an author and artist, and provides the comic relief wit hin a story. In the comic The Sacred Plaza, a comic about birds, “readers” within the story complain they don’t want to read a story about birds, TEZUKA then proceeds to redraw this family of birds as people. Here it shows the dominion of TEZUKA to the rest of the characters, due to his extreme likeness to the actual creator. However, in this family of birds the husband and wife begin to argue; eventually the husband tells the wife, “Shut up and sit on your eggs!”, and in the following panel, the wife sits on the eggs. Readers then reappear and are agitated by the nonsensical story. TEZUKA then transforms the people back into birds. In this instance TEZUKA is used as a medium of comic relief, like the joke of Hyōtantsugi. TEZUKA becomes the separation and the mediator between ourselves and his genuine world where he can transform anything as he pleases. This causes the readers to question, how truthful is this character? Is this world that TEZUKA creates a perfected, concentrated version of our own reality? A world where TEZUKA can even transform the way the author Osamu Tezuka’s wife looks in one instance within the comic? Tezuka created the character TEZUKA to have all his main attributes, being a workaholic, while simultaneously being a procrastinator, having the same clothing, the same facial features, the same impulsiveness as him. However in this realm, TEZUKA is capable of changing everything. By portraying to us another version of our own reality, he shows us the world we currently live in through his lens. TEZUKA tries to show us the most interesting aspects of our own world, but if we could change all the dull mundane parts of life, and we could truly have only the essential, undiluted, absolute theatrical parts left.
By using the star system, Tezuka creates a framing device within all his works, so that the characters are “roles” that are being “performed.” The audience becomes aware that the star is only standing in for the character. Tezuka believed that as absorbing as the comics may be, the stars’ relationships to the audience should remain detached. The stars may be a substitute for the character, but do not ever completely become the character. Although the characters are his “stars” and the story and setting are as real as the characters, ultimately it is an illusion.  What he really wants to depict aren’t the characters, the stars, or the story; Tezuka wants to use these devices of storytelling to illustrate a message to the audience, whether it be on human rights, the limits humans should interfere with technology, or the destruction of a civilization.

Works Cited
Onoda, Natsu. “stars and jokes and power.” God of comics:  Osamu Tezuka and the creation of post-World War II manga. Jackson [Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 2009. 1-23. Print.
Astro Boy Vol. 1. Dir. Osamu Tezuka. Perf. Astro Boy. 1963. Right Stuf, 2009. Film.
Fitch, Alex. “INTERVIEW WITH HELEN MCCARTHY ON OSAMU TEZUKA | Electric Sheep. “ Features, essays & interviews from the mavericks of the film world.” Electric Sheep Magazine – A Deviant View of Cinema. N.p., 20 Sept. 2008. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <;.
McCarthy, Helen. “RocketMan.” The art of Osamu Tezuka:  god of manga. New York: Abrams ComicArts, 2009. 1-3. Print.
Ohara, Rika. ” Mighty Tezuka! .”  Bluefat . N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2011. <;.
Palmer, Ada. “Rock Holmes:  Transformation | Tezuka in English.” Welcome | Tezuka in English. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2011. <;.
Schodt, Frederik. “The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka Mighty Atom Manga/Anime Revolution.” Foreword 19 Aug. 2009: 1-5. Print.
Tezuka, Osamu. Black Jack  . New York: Vertical, 2009. Print.


Written by narrativeinart

January 16, 2011 at 6:15 pm

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